How To Build A SaaS PPC Campaign That’s Built To Last
What makes a great SaaS PPC campaign – or at the very least, what will make a SaaS PPC campaign just a little bit better?
In other words, what makes a SaaS PPC campaign built to last?
As I was thinking about this recently, it occurred to me that nearly all the client PPC spend that I was fortunate enough to manage in 2022 was SaaS related, and the answers to this question were right under my nose.
After analyzing my campaigns, there were a small handful of items that really seemed to stand out.
These are the most important principles and strategies that contributed to the SaaS PPC campaigns I manage, which I believe are built to last.
I wanted to start by bringing attention to the conversion action conversion window because this can be an overlooked part of the setup for SaaS PPC accounts.
(Find the conversion window for your conversion actions by going to Tools & Settings > Measurement > Conversion. Then click on a Conversion Action > Click Edit Settings.)
Many industries can go from ad click to paying customers in a few days, hours, or even minutes – but SaaS products can easily take 30 to 90 days or longer.
If you want to make sure your campaigns are receiving credit for every conversion that they earn, you will want to tweak the conversion window to make sure it is long enough to capture all conversions that result from your search and/or display campaigns, over the entirety of the average customer sales cycle.
While the default click conversion window for all new conversion actions in Google Ads is 30 days, you can manually set the attribution window for anywhere from 1 to 90 days.
You can also set the window for Engaged-view and view-through conversions as well.
Considering the average sales cycle for SaaS companies is 84 days, it’s important that you are not missing the opportunity to register all the conversions that your campaigns deserve.
Offline Conversion Tracking Setup
When discussing what can be done to improve PPC outcomes, conversion tracking is often at the top of the list.
While this is certainly true when it comes to B2B SaaS, there is one form of conversion tracking that could be the most important of all: offline conversion tracking (OCT).
Unless your SaaS business has a short, relatively simple sales cycle that is completed online from beginning to end, it’s highly likely that you will be unable to fully track a customer journey – from the first ad click to the moment they become a paying customer – without setting up OCT in your ad account.
Uploading data about all the conversions that were achieved offline (like the signing of a contract that turned a sales lead into an actual paying customer) allows Google Ads to complete the circle of the customer journey by appending the offline conversions to all the customer data that was gathered during the online portion of the sales cycle for that specific user.
As the algorithms in your account get more information about these offline conversions, your campaigns will become increasingly optimized, bid more effectively for high-value clicks, and produce more paying customers – and do this all with a lower cost per acquisition than you could have ever achieved without OCT.
There is a lot to know about setting up OCT, but if you would like to know more you can check out How To Track Offline Conversions From Your Google Ads by Tim Jensen.
Seasonality – Not Just The Weather
As SaaS companies are, by definition, selling software products, you may not consider seasonality a big factor. And when it comes to the physical changing of the weather, that might still hold true.
However, I found that “seasonality” can be a lot more than just changing weather and holiday shopping.
If you research the industry your SaaS product serves and look at past campaign data with a macro lens, you are likely to find numerous times throughout the year that your campaign data will spike or fall on a fairly consistent basis.
Some common “seasonality” that may affect your campaigns in positive or negative ways are:
Fiscal Year Schedules
The vast majority of businesses have the first day of their fiscal year on October 1 or January 1.
Many companies will be looking for new SaaS options around this time as they develop department budgets for the upcoming year.
Not only will businesses likely have a renewed budget, but your competitors might be spending significantly more or less on their marketing efforts near the end of their own fiscal year.
This can make your marketing costs go up if your competitor is frantically trying to spend their full budget by the end of the year.
Or possibly even provide an opportunity for cheaper conversions if your biggest competitor pulls way back on marketing spend near the end of the year so they don’t overspend on their yearly marketing budget.
Industry Trade Events & Publications
Do you run the marketing for a SaaS product that is popular among a specific industry that has a big, national conference every summer?
Maybe your product is popular among teachers, so you see a spike in searches every August and September as school districts assess their needs.
What about IT products? I personally know that every year, thousands of IT professionals put their searching and planning for new software on hold for the week or two that precede the annual release of the Gartner: Magic Quadrant report, which independently tests and rates IT security SaaS products.
Two weeks a year, I am struggling just to get clicks. But then, in the span of a one-day search, volume explodes with new prospects searching for the IT products at the top of the ratings.
Annual Product Releases
It has become trendy for the biggest players in each industry to put on huge conferences or product release events that get consumers excited about the releases planned for that year.
If your SaaS product serves one of these markets, you will likely see a spike in searches and clicks around these events, because people are excited and motivated by what they are seeing.
Or, you may see search volume fall, because all your potential customers aren’t concerned with anything except for the big event.
Either way, if you are in the B2B SaaS marketing game, you will likely find similar periods, every year, that end up being so predictable, they might as well be actual, “seasonal” events.
If you plan ahead for whatever market conditions are likely during these “seasons,” you will have a much easier time hitting your client’s goals on time and on budget.
Have you ever heard of the power of positive thinking?
Well, sometimes there is serious power in going negative!
When it comes to PPC for SaaS, going negative can save you buckets of money on irrelevant clicks, poor-quality leads, and a lot of downright fraud.
Not only that, but if your account is full of bad clicks and poor-quality “conversions,” then the algorithms that rule your campaigns will be fed with bad data.
Worst of all, the algorithms will then compound the problem by going out and finding you more of those horrible clicks – so it’s important to eliminate as much bad spend as possible.
Here are some of the best ways to eliminate destructive spend in your SaaS campaigns:
Basic Search Campaign Maintenance
I know it’s boring, but you need to perform regular keyword maintenance on search campaigns and constantly add new negative keywords for terms that are not converting or are unrelated to your product.
Here’s a quick and easy process to find negative keyword candidates:
- Choose a 7- to 30-day timeframe, and click Campaign > Keywords > Search Keywords.
- Sort by Cost, highest to lowest.
- Click to select the first one to five keywords, then in the blue bar at the top of the list click “Search terms.”
- This will take you to the Search Terms section of the campaign, but it will automatically be filtered to only show the search terms that came from the search keywords you previously selected.
Display Targeting & Placements Exclusions
This is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to bad spend and algorithm corruption.
The more money you spend on Display campaigns, the more necessary it is to consistently review the Placements Report.
When you see a placement that looks like a low-quality or spam site, add it as a Placement Exclusion to your Display campaigns.
Question-Related Search Terms
Questions can be a big money drain when it comes to SaaS products.
Unless you have a robust website that is designed with plenty of great information around commonly asked questions related to your product, it will save a lot of money if you add interrogatives – or more commonly called “question words” – to your keyword negatives.
Doing this will keep you from paying expensive search campaign prices in order to answer a user’s questions.
The vast majority of the time, when a user searches with a question word, they are very high in the “funnel” and very unlikely to convert – so if your funds are limited, consider eliminating questions from the keywords that you target.
Here is my favorite list of interrogatives to add as negative keywords to campaigns:
Bidding on the product names or company names of your direct competitors is not a practice exclusive to the SaaS industry.
However, I have never seen the type of direct competitor warfare, level of spending, time allocation, and grandstanding that you get with SaaS companies and their competitors.
Maybe it’s because there are often dozens of SaaS companies doing the same thing, but there is only room for a few big players.
Maybe it’s because a lot of SaaS companies are in Silicon Valley and there are big egos, with lots of money involved.
Whatever the reason, competitor campaigns are a different beast when it comes to SaaS, and they need to be approached differently than you may approach them in any other industry.
Here are the main takeaways I have found when it comes to targeting SaaS competitors with PPC.
A mentor of mine once said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” That mentor was Yoda in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” And Yoda could not be more right.
The biggest decision you have to make when it comes to competitor campaigns is whether or not you will even decide to launch one.
You certainly don’t have to, and there are some good reasons to avoid it altogether – like, among other things, putting that money towards other campaigns that will be more efficient and profitable overall.
However, if you decide to create a competitor campaign, where you directly bid on branded, competitor keywords, you need to really understand why you are doing it and what benefit it will give you, and then really commit to providing the resources necessary to achieve the goals you choose.
Break Competitors Into Tiers
In the SaaS industry, going after every competitor you have is a sure way to fail.
It’s usually best to break out one to two competitors that you consider your main competition into a Tier 1 competitor campaign.
Create another campaign for Tier 2 competitors and fill it with three to six other competitors that, while not as big a threat as Tier 1, are still formidable.
Doing this will allow you to adjust how much budget you allot between competitors, and it will allow you more control over the targeting, ad copy, bid strategy, etc., for your two distinct tiers of competitors.
If you decide to join the competitor battle, a little planning can go a long way.
Obviously, you need to first decide how much of your budget you are going to allot to this endeavor.
I generally recommend allotting enough budget to obtain 10-25% of Search Impression Share, or up to 20% of your overall PPC budget – whichever is smaller.
Doing this will give you enough funds to be seen and show your competitors that you are in the fight, but not take too much away from more profitable campaigns.
You will need to plan for a higher cost per action (CPA), lower conversion rate (CVR), and lower keyword quality scores than other campaigns, so adjust your conversion and ROI expectations accordingly.
Be Clever With Ad Copy
While you actually can use competitor names in your search campaign ad copy, those ads will likely end up not being shown as much compared with ads that do not use competitor names.
So, it’s best if you can find a way to refer to your competitor without actually using their company or product name.
Challenge yourself to find a way to allude to your competitor or use well-known competitor brand language instead of directly stating their name.
Is Microsoft one of your main competitors? You can write an ad description line that says, “There’s nothing micro or soft about our solution to cloud database management.”
Not only will this stand out to your potential customers, but it will also drive your competitors crazy!
Always Run A Brand Campaign
While it’s definitely a topic that’s up for debate, I believe you should probably have a paid campaign, of some sort, that targets your own brand terms.
However, if you are going to be targeting your competitors’ brand terms with a campaign, it’s essential that you have a robust brand campaign for your own brand terms.
There are two main reasons for this.
First, you don’t want to leave your own brand vulnerable if you are seen targeting your biggest competitors.
They can, and likely will, create a competitor campaign of their own that targets your brand terms, and you don’t want to make it easy or cheap for them to run that campaign.
Second, a brand campaign is the easiest type of campaign to earn high-quality scores and get the cheapest possible clicks.
In turn, this makes it very difficult for your competitors to get more than a three or four quality score for your brand terms, thus making the clicks they receive quite expensive.
When it comes to PPC, especially PPC for SaaS, there is likely never a perfect solution or perfect decision when you are building and optimizing campaigns.
However, I would encourage you to test at least a few of the ideas mentioned above and find out for yourself if they can help to make your PPC SaaS account built to last.
Featured Image: TierneyMJ/Shutterstock
11 Tips For Optimizing Performance Max Campaigns
Performance Max campaigns are the pinnacle of automation in PPC, so it’s no surprise they continue to be a major topic of debate for PPC professionals looking to balance time savings with peak campaign performance.
The primary goal of Performance Max campaigns is to drive conversions, such as sales, leads, or sign-ups, for your business while maintaining a competitive cost-per-action (CPA) or return-on-ad-spend (ROAS).
By utilizing Smart Bidding strategies and dynamically adapting ad creatives, these campaigns help advertisers reach a wider audience and boost the results obtained from traditional, single-channel campaigns.
But their high dependence on AI doesn’t mean these are set-it-and-forget-it campaigns.
Automation can still benefit from the touch of an expert PPC manager. But because they are so different from traditional campaigns, there are unique ways to optimize Performance Max (PMax) campaigns.
PMax optimization broadly falls into three categories:
- Setting them up for success.
- Monitoring that the AI is driving the right results.
- Tweaking the campaigns to further optimize their performance.
Read on to learn how to get the most out of your PMax campaigns by addressing each of these three areas of opportunity.
How To Set Up PMax Campaigns For Success
Let’s start with what can be done to set up Performance Max campaigns to be successful out of the gate.
Remember that one big risk of automated PPC is that machine learning algorithms can eat up a significant amount of budget during the learning phase, where it establishes what works and what doesn’t.
Many advertisers don’t have the patience or the deep pockets to pay for machines to learn what they already know from their own experience.
1. Run It In Addition To Traditional Campaign Types
This advice is straight from Google, which says
“It’s designed to complement your keyword-based Search campaigns to help you find more converting customers across all of Google’s channels like YouTube, Display, Search, Discover, Gmail, and Maps.”
And while running Performance Max as a stand-alone campaign is better than not advertising on Google at all, for professional marketers, it should be seen as a supplement to existing campaign types.
Running PMax campaigns in conjunction with traditional search and display campaigns offers advertisers a more comprehensive and diversified marketing strategy.
This approach allows businesses to capitalize on the strengths of each campaign type while mitigating their limitations, resulting in a more balanced and effective promotional effort.
Traditional search campaigns are particularly effective at capturing user intent through keyword targeting, ensuring ads are shown to users actively searching for relevant products or services.
Traditional display campaigns, on the other hand, are excellent at raising brand awareness and reaching audiences across a vast network of websites and apps.
PMax campaigns complement these traditional approaches by utilizing machine learning to optimize ad targeting and placement across multiple Google platforms.
This broadens the reach of advertising efforts, tapping into new audience segments and driving conversions more efficiently.
Combining these campaign types allows advertisers to cover all stages of the customer journey, from awareness and consideration to conversion and retention, while maximizing their ROAS.
2. Exclude Brand Keywords From Performance Max
One keyword-targeted search campaign you should always have is a brand campaign.
Then, ask your Google rep to exclude your brand keywords from all PMax campaigns so they don’t cannibalize traffic from your brand campaign.
Brand traffic should be inexpensive because it’s leveraging the power of your own brand. When users search for that, your ads will be the best match with the highest Quality Score and hence should be discounted significantly.
But because Performance Max’s mission is to generate more conversions, it may actually end up bidding on really expensive brand-adjacent queries.
For example, if I bid on the keyword “optmyzr,” I’ll pay around $0.10 per click when someone searches for exactly that.
(Disclosure, I am the co-founder of Optmyzr.)
But if I show ads for the keyword “optmyzr ppc management software,” I’m competing against every advertiser who bids for ‘ppc management software,’ my brand discount disappears, and those clicks will cost several dollars each.
In a branded search campaign, I can control exactly which traffic to target using positive and negative keywords. But in Performance Max, there is no easy way to manage keywords, so Google may use the really cheap brand traffic to subsidize the much more expensive brand-adjacent traffic.
Ultimately, you will get results within your stated ROAS or CPA limits. And while that may be acceptable to some, many advertisers prefer to manage their brand campaign separately from everything else.
3. Create Multiple Performance Max Campaigns To Target Different Goals
The same reasons why you would run more than one campaign in an account without Performance Max apply to why you should consider having multiple PMaxcampaigns.
For example, online retailers often set different goals for different product categories because they have different profit margins. By splitting these products into different campaigns with different ROAS targets, advertisers can maximize their profitability.
Maintaining multiple campaigns also supports seasonal advertising plans that may require different budgets at different times of the year.
Google supports up to 100 Performance Max campaigns per account, so that indicates that it, too, agrees there are many different good reasons why an advertiser would want to maintain more than one campaign.
4. Manage Final URL Expansion
When you create a PMax campaign, you tell Google what landing page to send traffic to. But you also get to decide if Google can expand to other landing pages on your domain.
Think of it a bit as dynamic search ads (DSAs), which automatically match your site’s pages to potentially relevant searches and automatically generate the ads to show.
Final URL expansion should be used cautiously.
At the campaign’s onset, consider focusing all your budget on the landing pages you care most about. If the results are good, then expand to more final URLs automatically.
And always be sure to use rules and exclusions to ensure Google doesn’t show your ads for parts of your site you don’t want advertised. For example, exclude your login page (assuming that one is ranked high in SEO).
You can also exclude sections of your site that are the focus of other campaigns. A retailer could exclude all pages that include the path ‘electronics’ in their apparel campaign to ensure consumers interested in electronics are served ads from the most relevant campaign.
5. Add Audience Signals From The Start
Adding audiences to a Performance Max campaign helps enhance the targeting and performance of your marketing efforts.
While PMax campaigns already utilize machine learning to optimize ad targeting, incorporating audience information provides additional context that can further improve the campaign’s efficiency.
Adding audience information enables the machine learning algorithms in PMax campaigns to make more informed decisions when optimizing ad targeting and placements. This can lead to better campaign performance and a higher ROAS.
By specifying particular audience segments, such as in-market, affinity, or remarketing audiences, advertisers can tailor their campaign messaging and creative to resonate better with their target users. This enables more personalized and relevant ad experiences, resulting in higher engagement and conversion rates.
Advertisers should also attach their own audiences to Performance Max campaigns. For example, by attaching a list of all their existing customers, they can choose to have the PMax campaign prioritize new user acquisition.
Because it is generally harder and more expensive to find new users than to convince existing users to make another purchase, adding this setting can better focus the ad budget on what is most valuable to the business.
How To Monitor Performance Max Campaigns For Success
Even when campaigns are well set up, monitoring AI is always a smart idea because it can sometimes make questionable decisions.
When I accidentally turned on automatically applied recommendations from Google, I found that my brand keyword ‘optmyzr’ was removed by Google because the AI felt it was redundant to some other keywords in my campaign, particularly some misspellings of our brand name.
I investigated and found the keywords Google preferred delivered fewer conversions and had a higher CPA than the keywords it removed. So not only was AI semantically wrong, but it also made a bad decision for my bottom line.
So let’s look at some ways to monitor Performance Max campaigns.
6. Report Where Your Performance Max Traffic Is Coming From
Just like you may have monitored clicks and impressions by device types or from different geographic areas, in PMax you should care about the performance of the various channels where your ads are shown.
If you only look at the overall performance of a PMax campaign, you may be falling into the trap of averages.
Relying solely on averages can be misleading and might not accurately represent the true nature of the underlying data.
Averages can oversimplify complex data, reducing it to a single value that may not capture important nuances or patterns within the dataset, and this can mask the variability or range of values in the dataset, leading to false assumptions about the consistency or homogeneity of the data.
For example, is low performance on the display network made up for by the great performance of ads on YouTube?
On average, the campaign drives the results you want. But by eliminating some wasteful portions, results could be even better than what you asked for.
Even if the campaign is delivering the desired results, knowing about possible inefficiencies puts you in a better position to address those and tilt the playing field back in your favor.
Tools like Optmyzr make it easy to see where your budget is spent in PMax, and there are also Google Ads scripts that will add this type of clarity to your data.
7. Monitor For Cannibalization
Because PMax campaigns don’t include the traditional search terms reports and only include part of that data in insights, it can be difficult to know when it is cannibalizing the other campaigns you’re running in parallel.
When it comes to standard shopping campaigns and PMax for retail (which replaced Smart Shopping campaigns), the PMax campaign always takes precedence over the traditional shopping campaign. For this reason, it’s important to segment products to avoid overlap.
For example, you could advertise shower doors in one campaign and bathroom vanities in another. But if there is any possible overlap, even segmenting campaigns may not lead to the desired result.
For example, shower wands advertised in a traditional shopping campaign may be closely enough related to shower doors and get mixed into the PMax campaign for shower enclosures.
Regarding keyword cannibalization, Google says if the user’s query is identical to an eligible Search keyword of any match type in your account, the Search campaign will be prioritized over Performance Max.
But if the query is not identical to an eligible Search keyword, the campaign or ad with the highest Ad Rank, which considers creative relevance and performance, will be selected.
And even a keyword that is an identical match may be ineligible due to a variety of factors and still get cannibalized.
The best way to monitor for cannibalization is to monitor campaign volumes and look for shifts. Does an unexpected drop in a search campaign correspond to an increase in traffic to the PMax campaign? If so, dig deeper and use our optimization tip for managing negative keywords that we’ll cover in the next section.
Optimizations For Performance Max
While PMax promises to optimize itself on an ongoing basis thanks to AI, there are some proactive ways you can still help the machines deliver better results.
8. Use Account-Level Negative Keywords
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to add negative keywords to a PMax campaign without the help of a Google rep. And even then, they will generally only add negative brand keywords to help prevent cannibalizing a brand campaign.
But PMax campaigns can work with shared negative keyword lists if you email Support and ask them to attach one of your shared negative lists to your PMax campaigns.
From that point forward, you can simply add negative keywords to the shared list, and they will instantly take effect on the PMax campaign that is associated with the shared negative list.
While Google doesn’t share full search term details for PMax the way it does for search campaigns, it will show keyword themes under insights. This is one good source for negative keyword ideas.
You should also leverage data from traditional search campaigns you’re running in parallel to PMax.
So mine your traditional search campaigns for negative keyword ideas, for example, when users search for things like ‘free’ ‘login’, etc., that never convert well. Add these as negative keywords to the shared negative list that is attached to your PMax campaign.
9. Use Account-Level Placement Exclusions
When it comes to placements, Google has a predefined report that shows placements where your Performance Max ads were shown.
This is a great starting point to find ideas for placements to exclude.
To exclude placements from PMax, you’ll need to exclude them at the account level, since it’s not possible to add negative placements to individual PMax campaigns. You’ll find this ability under the “Content” section of the Google Ads account.
Just like with negative keyword discovery, consider using your account-wide placement data from all campaigns to find placements to exclude in PMax.
And if you run multiple Google Ads accounts, you can get even better results by finding money-wasting sites and apps in the display network to exclude across all the accounts you manage.
Or when working with a tool provider, they may even be able to help you find negative placement ideas from their own vast network of data.
10. Exclude Non-Performing Geo Locations
Even though PMax uses automated bidding, which doesn’t support geo bid adjustments, you can still leverage geo data in two ways.
You can either exclude locations that don’t drive conversions or use conversion value rules to manipulate the value you report for conversions from different regions so that the bids will get adjusted accordingly.
For example, if you report conversions as soon as someone fills out your lead form, but you know that people in Munich become paying customers at a higher rate than people who fill out the same form from Berlin, you can set a conversion value rule to value conversions from Munich more highly.
This helps automated bidding make the right decisions about what CPC bid will likely have the desired ROAS.
And that leads to our final optimization tip, which is a big one.
11. Feed Correct Conversion Data
AI can only do a good job for your account if you tell it what the goal is.
And the goal should be precise.
It shouldn’t be to get the most conversions possible if your real goal is to drive profits.
Or to get as many leads as possible if you want leads that turn into customers.
Setting up goals correctly can make a huge difference in how well PPC automation will perform.
Updating goals with margin data or with data from your sales team can be a significant effort, and that’s why I’ve listed this as an ongoing optimization strategy rather than an up-front setup task.
Get PMax up and running with the conversions you’ve already been operating with, and then work to constantly enhance that conversion data.
With these 11 tips to optimize your Performance Max campaigns, you can expect better results while also benefiting from the time savings promised by automated campaign types.
There are many more tips I didn’t cover here that you can discover by joining the dialogue online.
And there will be many more tips to come as PPC automation continues to evolve.
Featured Image: TippaPatt/Shutterstock
A Strategy For Ranking Local Search Terms
Location landing pages don’t get enough respect.
You set them up with your name, address, phone number & hours. Maybe you embed a Google Map for driving directions.
Perhaps you write some copy that no one will read, and if you have multiple locations, you repeat the same copy on each page and just change the location name.
If you’re feeling cocky, you put a call to action on it – maybe.
You set it, then you forget it.
And guess what? That actually works pretty well for local SEO.
I mean, what more does a potential customer want from a location page? Maybe an appointment scheduler?
But who cares about the customer? We smug SEO types all know Google is our #1 customer.
So, what does Google want from a location page? Let’s start with the basics.
1. What Is The Purpose Of A Location Page? (PAA FTW)
I can’t believe I have to explain this, but ChatGPT isn’t going to train itself. (At least, I don’t think it will.)
For retailers, location pages come in four basic types:
1. Location Detail Page
This typically represents the physical location of a business (e.g., SideTrack Bar & Grill at 30 W. Angela St. Pleasanton, CA 94566,).
2. Location Service/Department Page
This typically represents a specific service or department category available at the physical location (e.g., SideTrack Bar & Grill Catering).
3. City Page
This typically represents the city (#duh) where various physical locations are located (e.g., Pleasanton, CA),
4. State Page
This typically represents the state (#duh2) where various physical locations are located (e.g., California).
Depending on your industry, you may also want to consider County Pages (or Boroughs, Provinces, Prefectures, or whatever nomenclature your particular country uses).
For example, attorneys specializing in the laws of a specific county may find it useful to set up a page for that county.
There are likely infinite other options, but these are the main ones that 99% of you with location-based businesses need to consider.
For service area businesses (aka “SABs”), it’s basically the same setup, except you will typically want to create additional City Pages for the various areas you serve (e.g., Plumber in Livermore, CA, Plumber in San Ramon, CA, etc.).
This will help you target these queries in the Local Organic search engine results pages (SERPs) – those results that typically show up below/above Local Packs – and they can help your Google Business Profile (GBP) be more relevant for queries for those areas.
2. Why Do Location Pages Matter For SEO?
Despite their simplicity, location pages can play a big part in SEO for brands.
There are two basic types of search queries these pages are tailor-made for:
These are perhaps the most important queries to show up on Google for.
When a searcher queries [Starbucks], [Starbucks near me], or [Starbucks Pleasanton], Google typically wants to show a location page for that brand.
If you don’t have a page for the specific location, Google may show your homepage, a nearby City Page, or perhaps a page for a third-party site like a local business directory that uses your brand name, plus the location for SEO purposes.
And, of course, there are all sorts of related queries like “Starbucks hours,” “Starbucks address,” etc.
Non-Brand Local Queries
These are the money queries where you can attract potential customers who may have never heard of you – or thought of you for the specific query.
Consider queries like [pizza], [pizza near me], [best pizza in Pleasanton], etc. Single-location businesses can often rank for these queries with just their homepage, which basically acts like a location page.
But multi-location businesses will typically need a page for that specific location to rank for these high-value queries in the organic results.
Outside of the homepage, location pages are typically the best source of a site’s external links. Numerous local business directories link to these (aka “local citations”) and they tend to accumulate backlinks from local media sites and others over time.
They can then spread the link mojo throughout the site.
3. How Do Location Pages Affect Local Pack Rankings?
This is pretty straightforward. If you have a Google Business Profile (GBP) linking it to a location page for the area in which you are trying to rank is a critical ranking factor for Local Packs.
I have done plenty of tests where we changed the link to go to a page that did not target the city we wanted to rank in, and the Local Pack rankings suffered. When we switched it back, the rankings recovered.
It’s important to note: your homepage may have more location mojo than your location page for a given location, so you’ll want to test which one works better for GBP.
And as mentioned above, having a page for a given service area can help you rank for queries for those service areas.
4. What Are the Basic Elements Of A Well-Optimized Location Page?
Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP)
Your location’s business name, address, phone number, and hours. Make sure the name, and all other info, you use on this page matches the info on your business’s GBP.
Last year we looked at 100,000 SERPs and found that pages on local directory sites that exactly match the business name and other info of the relevant GBPs tended to outperform those that have partial or no matches.
Structure Your Data
Mark up all of the NAP elements in LocalBusiness schema. There are a number of specific business category schemas, so if there is something more targeted for your business, you’ll want to use that.
For brands with multiple related brands (e.g., IHG, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, etc.), you’ll want to acquaint yourself with Organization schema to help our robot overlords sort things out correctly.
And don’t forget breadcrumbs linking up to parent City/State URLs marked up with Breadcrumb schema.
Use Targeted Meta Data
The page’s title tag and H1 should ideally target the business name and location (e.g., “Starbucks Pleasanton, CA”).
You can certainly test adding additional targeting to see how it affects performance (e.g., “Starbucks Coffee in Pleasanton, CA,” “Starbucks Coffee Near Pleasanton, CA”).
Our research suggests that outside of the target category (e.g., “coffee”), the city is the most important element to be included in the title tag for “near me” searches – then the state.
Using the word “near” appears to help, but at the margins. Still, an extra 1-2% clicks couldn’t hurt, right?
5. Engagement Intangibles
“Engagement” is one of the fuzzier of the many fuzzy SEO factors.
So think about what else a potential customer might need to find a location page useful.
Calls-to-action (CTAs), like the ability to make online appointments, order something online, etc., likely send positive signals to Google about the usefulness of the location page.
6. Advanced Location Page SEO
This isn’t rocket science, so when I say “advanced,” I really mean “SEO tactics for someone who somehow got buy-in from the rest of the org to prioritize updates to the location pages that everyone forgot we even had.”
Here are some things we have seen work over time. Your mileage may vary, of course:
It’s perfectly fine to start with a basic copy block with a find and replace for the location name/city that explains what your business offers.
It’s relatively cheap and easy, and you can always go back and update the copy later. See what that gets you before spending more time or money on it.
That said, we tend to see more targeted copy outperform instances of using the same copy on each page. I recall a client site not moving in rankings for six months until we updated the copy on the location pages to be unique.
As with everything SEO, try to test this at a small scale before you make a bigger investment.
Hopefully, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it: using phrases relevant to the topic you are targeting in your copy couldn’t hurt.
Certain businesses may also benefit from adding “Points of Interest” (aka “POIs”) to the copy. For example, people often search for hotels with modifiers like “near the airport.”
So adding those phrases and POIs to your location pages can make your page more relevant for these queries while also improving the relevance for the target city “entity.”
That’s a fancy way of saying that because you mention JFK Airport, Google may think you’re relevant to the great borough of Queens, NY. Mentioning the neighborhoods you serve is also a good one.
Link To Nearby Locations
Multi-location businesses should link to nearby locations (the distance depends on what you think is best for customers) from their location pages.
There are two good reasons besides customer convenience to do this:
- The more locations you have, the harder it is for Googlebot to find them, so linking to them from these pages creates more reasons for Googlebot to crawl them.
- Adding the other location names to the copy of the location page may make it more relevant for Google. For example, if there’s a link to “Starbucks Livermore” on the “Starbucks Pleasanton” page, the phrase “Livermore” might give Google more confidence about the Pleasanton location, since Livermore is the next town over.
Use Topically Relevant Images And Videos
Since these lowly location pages get no respect to begin with, they often are launched with copy only.
But check this out: We have found that for some niches, merely adding relevant images to the pages can help with ranking improvements.
For example, if you have a truck driver school, consider adding a picture of a person driving a truck (#duh3). If you are a remodeler, maybe add some shots of recent projects.
A good rule of thumb is to look at the top-ranking pages in the Local Pack for your query and make sure you have just as good, if not better, images and/or videos on your location page.
Use Google’s Vision API to ensure it understands what your image is about.
Link To Product/Service Category Pages
Last year we looked at Local Packs across 10,000,000 keywords for 40 ecommerce categories in 5,000 U.S. markets (the things we do for SEO…).
One of our key findings was that location pages that linked to category pages (e.g., Target.com’s Dublin, CA page linking to its Video Games Category Page) tended to outrank those sites that didn’t do this.
This simple tactic can have a significant impact.
Pick the categories you want to prioritize and link away.
Add Local Reviews
Adding a feed of customer reviews to these pages, particularly if the reviews are from the page’s target area, can often improve performance.
One of my theories is that a regularly updated review feed gives Google a good reason to visit the page often and prioritize it.
Before you implement this, be sure to bone up on Google’s guide to user reviews and its rules for marking up “self-serving” reviews.
Note: I have rarely seen a site penalized for violating these rules, but you may not want to be Patient Zero on this one.
Meet The Team!
We recently did a project for a moving company where we observed that many of the best-ranking pages in their markets had pictures of the local team.
According to my friend Carrie Hill of Sterling Sky,
“Any time someone goes into a client’s house, car, or business, I advise putting employee faces on websites, confirmations, and reminders.”
The Kitchen Sink
Other items that could make sense on your location pages and improve engagement include:
- Philanthropy and community connections.
- Local sponsorships.
- Hiring and careers info.
- Pricing info (marked up with Price schema, of course).
- Business license/insurance info.
- Social proof and trust signals like BBB accreditation for each location and/or “Voted Best Boba Shop in Pleasanton!”
Use Google Merchant Center Data To Increase Conversions
If you are running product listing ads (PLAs) you likely have a ton of data in Google Merchant Center that can give you hints on how to improve conversions on your location pages.
The TL;DR: Check your Google Merchant Center (GMC) to see what products get the highest impressions and click-through rate (CTR) when they are connected to your GBP in the SERPs.
This can be found in the “Local Surfaces” report. These products should be featured on the relevant location page.
Google is showing you that people are already interested in them.
See Google Merchant Center: A Local SEO Goldmine for Retailers for more detail on this wacky trick.
7. What Should I Not Do With Location Pages?
Over the past decade or two, we have tried pretty much everything you can think of with these things. Here are a couple of things you’ll want to be wary of:
Unnecessary Location + Service Pages
We’ve seen many brands launch location + service/department pages linked off the location detail page. For example, Home Depot has these pages for Home Services, Truck Rental, and its Garden Centers.
There are plenty of good non-SEO reasons to have these pages. If you are looking to rent a truck, having a specific page about renting a truck in your city might be helpful.
But be clear that this will often not be a net-new traffic play.
Why do I say this?
Because, after looking at organic traffic data to tens of thousands of location + service pages, we have observed that most of the time, 90% of the organic traffic to these pages is brand traffic, and they are likely cannibalizing searches you were already getting.
This is not the case in every situation, and it may be worth it to roll these out merely to improve conversions.
But you should be aware that these may not be a net positive in terms of organic traffic, and they may even have negative SEO effects due to increasing the number of “thin” URLs on the site.
In one case, we had a client with about 100,000 URLs launch these pages, which created about 1,000,000 new URLs. Guess how well that went.
Our rule of thumb is that if a department or service can get a GBP, it may be worth creating a local page for SEO purposes. This doesn’t apply to all cases, of course.
Location Pages With No Location
We recently worked on a retailer site that created pages for cities that were near their locations, but where they had no locations.
The pages looked like every other location page, but instead of presenting NAP info for a relevant location, it linked to the nearby locations.
This was a national site, so they had over 130,000 of these. And, of course, they were getting virtually zero organic traffic.
For SABs, this tactic is necessary if you want to rank outside of your physical location’s area (more on that in a moment). But it seems that, for queries that imply a searcher is looking for a physical location, Google doesn’t want to show you these types of no-location pages.
Oh, and don’t add insult to injury by creating local pages for every brand you carry (e.g.,/ca/pleasanton/flaming-hot-cheetohs). This client had about 500,000 of those and, you guessed it, virtually no organic traffic.
Beware Thin Content Location Pages
A common tactic for service area businesses or SABs is to create a ton of location pages for the areas they serve.
They may even make the content on them super unique.
The challenge is that we are starting to see these types of plays get manual actions for thin content.
Of course, Google does not seem to apply this across the board. I still see plenty of “thin” location pages for various queries.
So what can you do? It’s the same challenge every other SEO has.
Look at what type of content is doing best for a particular query type and create a better page. Let’s face it: when it comes to location pages, the bar is pretty low.
Only Create Pages When There Is Clear Local Intent
We just finished up a project for an attorney with practices in 30+ cities. They have 54 practice areas and have created location + practice pages for each. That’s 1,620+ pages for Google to figure out.
The first thing we did was to determine how much “local intent” there was for search results for each practice area.
“Local intent” can be determined by what % of a SERP has “local” content (e.g., Local Packs, cities or states in the titles, suggested or related searches, etc.).
You don’t need a location page for a query with relatively low local intent. This particular attorney had 300+ location pages targeting queries that had no local intent.
In these cases, it would be better for SEO to redirect these pages to a single “national” service page.
So before you invest a lot in creating location pages, check for local intent first. It might save you a lot of time and cash.
I could keep going.
These deceptively simple pages have near-infinite possibilities for SEO, but my guess is that if you have made it this far, you now have plenty of JIRA tickets to prioritize.
Special thanks to Carrie Hill, Amy Toman, Mike Blumenthal, Joy Hawkins, Brandon Schmidt, and Will Scott for providing feedback.
Special thanks to the LSG team for yelling at me like they were my mother when I was procrastinating while writing this article.
Featured Image: DEEMKA STUDIO/Shutterstock
AI Domain Name Generator & AI Writer Announced by Web.com
Web.com, the all in one web services destination, announced two new AI-based tools that help users choose a domain name and provide content ideas.
While the AI Writer tool is for customers, use of the AI Domain Name Generator is free and available for anyone to use without having to sign up for anything.
Web.com AI Tools
Web.com is a provider of hosting, domain, website building, SEO, security and email services.
It’s also an ecommerce platform, essentially a one-stop destination for everything needed to launch a website.
So it’s a natural fit to introduce an AI-based tool that helps customers at the beginning of their website journey when choosing a domain name.
Content ideas for product descriptions, article excerpts, and content for blogs is also a useful addition that should help their users leverage OpenAI technology.
Web.com’s AI writer is a tool that’s exclusively for their customers.
The tool works with an easy to use step by step interface.
First a user selects the the type of content that is needed and then it prompts selections for contextually relevant options like important keywords or the tone of the content.
It creates the following kinds of content:
- Landing page
- Meta descriptions
- Meta titles
- PPC ad
- Product description
- Product details page
- Services page
- Social post
The AI writer also works in the following twelve languages:
I asked Web.com if the tool can automatically insert product descriptions and meta descriptions.
“Not yet, the in-product AI Writer feature generates the copy for you, you can customize it to your liking and then you copy and paste it.
However, that kind of integration within the website builder will be coming in the next phase of the product.”
This is how the tool works:
“It was developed for entrepreneurs and small businesses looking for an easy way to create content for their websites, social pages, blogs, product descriptions, and digital marketing campaigns without having to write it themselves.
The AI-powered tool offers a variety of content prompts and interfaces depending on content needs, making it easy to tailor content to specific needs (e.g., emojis for social posts).
Other customizable elements include design tones, keywords, and multilingual content generation in over 10 languages, including English, Spanish, French, and Mandarin, so creators can create websites even in a language they aren’t fluent in.”
The AI Writer tool is based on OpenAI, so it’s a convenient way for customers to access these tools within their workflow.
AI Domain Name Generator
The AI domain name generator is a public tool that helps users brainstorm domain name ideas.
It leverages OpenAI technology so anyone familiar with prompting ChatGPT will immediately feel comfortable using this tool.
But the tool is so easy to use that someone who is new to generative AI should be able to use it.
What makes this tool interesting is that the AI domain name generator is open for use by anyone, you don’t have to be registered user or customer to take advantage of it.
I gave it a try and by describing the kind of business the domain name is for and it generated some pretty good keyword-based domain names.
My preference tends toward brand name domains.
So I updated the prompt by adding, “Don’t use keywords for the domain name but rather give me an evocative brand name.”
And it worked!
Web.com described their tool:
“Traditionally brainstorming and manually searching for available domain names can be time-consuming and labor-intensive.
By combining AI with our expertise and experience as one of the largest domain name providers in the world, Web.com offers small businesses a more efficient, creative and tailored approach to finding the best available and relevant domain names.
A customer can provide a few words to describe their business, and the AI-powered Domain Name Generator gives the best ideas on domain names, significantly reducing the time and effort required to find a relevant domain name.”
The AI domain name generator is available here.
Featured image by Shutterstock/Kateryna Onyshchuk
Google Updates Shopping Ads Policy Center & Free Listings Policy Center
How To Use AI To Enhance Your SEO Content Writing [Webinar]
Google Local Service Ads Sends Out Mass Policy Violation Notices
Google Search With More Detailed Car Comparison Tools
Google’s Search Relations Team Explores Web3’s SEO Impact
49 Father’s Day Instagram Captions & Ready-Made Images
What Businesses Get Wrong About Content Marketing in 2023 [Expert Tips]
Bing Video Search “More Like This” Button
Which is the Best WordPress Theme for You in 2023?
Custom Theme Designs Just Got Easier – WordPress.com News
SEARCHENGINES3 days ago
Google Updates Shopping Ads Policy Center & Free Listings Policy Center
SEO3 days ago
How To Use AI To Enhance Your SEO Content Writing [Webinar]
SEARCHENGINES3 days ago
Google Local Service Ads Sends Out Mass Policy Violation Notices
SEARCHENGINES4 days ago
Google Search With More Detailed Car Comparison Tools
SEO4 days ago
Google’s Search Relations Team Explores Web3’s SEO Impact
PPC4 days ago
49 Father’s Day Instagram Captions & Ready-Made Images
MARKETING6 days ago
What Businesses Get Wrong About Content Marketing in 2023 [Expert Tips]
SEARCHENGINES5 days ago
Bing Video Search “More Like This” Button